Last Wednesday, Donald Sommer was driving from his home in Northeast Philadelphia to Ocean City, New Jersey. He already had his bathing suit and cowboy hat on. Nancy, his wife of 49 years, was by his side.
“The last twelve days,” he said. “They’ve been the greatest twelve days of my life that I can remember.”
That much time had passed since Sommer retired from his job at Tottser Tool & Manufacturing in Southampton, where he worked as a tool and die maker for the last 52 years.
Sommer, 72, contemplated retirement before. In 2014, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “My biggest fear is that I’ll be bored to death.”
It’s safe to say that fear has been squashed.
Following the retirement party, the Sommers headed down the shore, where they spent a week hanging out with their family. In total, they have four adult children and eight grandkids.
“Seven boys and a girl,” Nancy said, the way proud grandmothers do.
Though her husband retired, Nancy, 69, is still working as a biller for Fox Chase Pediatrics, where she’s been for 28 years.
“Both my husband and I take this loyalty thing to the umpteenth degree,” she joked.
That loyalty pervades their personal lives as well.
The Sommers grew up neighbors in the Mayfair section of Northeast Philadelphia. Donald took Nancy to her junior prom at St. Hubert High School, and both never dated anyone else. They were married by the time he was 23 and she was 20, and moved into a home minutes away from where they grew up. They still live there today.
Luckily for Donald, his company valued loyalty, too.
“I wanted to walk out. I didn’t want to be carried out,” he said. “But they would’ve let me stay another 10 years.”
In recent decades, the United States manufacturing industry has been in flux. Tottser was first affected when its largest customer was bought out by a company with its eyes overseas, where cheap labor meant lower prices than Tottser could reasonably compete with.
By that time, Linda Macht had already taken over as owner of Tottser. Her father, Bernard Reichart, was owner when Donald was originally hired in 1964.
Tottser earns its wages in the auto parts industry, which has shifted South and overseas in recent years, from the major Northern producers of decades passed. Macht partnered with another company in 2011 to open a second factory in Tennessee.
“We’re doing maintenance now. We’re not building tools,” she said.
It’s much different than the early years of Sommer’s career, when tool and die jobs were constantly in search of labor.
“You could quit one day and have another job that afternoon,” he said.
Not that he ever did. When Tottser was trending downward, he even offered to continue to work for added vacation time.
“He offered to do that and I took him up on it,” Macht said. “He did whatever he could do to help the company.”
The company has survived due to Macht’s management, but it will have to move on without its most experienced tool and die maker.
During his last day on July 15, past employees, friends, family and coworkers at Tottser gathered to honor the longtime employee. Macht, Donald, his family and the men who worked beside him said their tearful goodbyes.
“I enjoyed my last day as much as I did my first,” Donald said. “I got a great family. I got a great wife. I had a great job for 52 years.”
As he headed to the beach to celebrate with his family, he’s off to a great retirement, too.